It was hardly the prettiest of victories, but in the end Wisconsin finished off a methodical shutout rout of the visiting Oregon State Beavers to go to 2-0 on the season.
The defense has, if anything, looked even better in 2011 under Chris Ash’s coordination than it did under former DC Dave Doeren last season. Against a green Oregon State offense, the Badgers plugged up every attempt to sustain any momentum by alternating QBs Sean Mannion and Ryan Katz.
Kicking off at what felt like 9:00 am for the visitors, the Wisconsin offense seemed to be on Pacific time as well. The normally-potent Badger ground game was anemic early, with Oregon State’s front seven getting good push against the Wisconsin offensive line and stuffing both Montee Ball and James White for little gain.
After one quarter Ball had carried three times for -2 yards; White had taken up the lead duties on the team’s third drive, getting the ball six times for 14 yards on the ground on a drive that would stall at midfield after a 3rd-and-9 incompletion forced the punt.
Wisconsin led 7-0 after Russell Wilson threw his third touchdown pass of the season, this one to sophomore tight end Jacob Pedersen from 17 yards out on the team’s second offensive series. The Badgers were getting most of their yardage through the air early, Wilson completing a bunch of shorter passes to march the team downfield. He would hit Nick Toon for a second touchdown midway through the second quarter, and found Pedersen for a second touchdown in the final minute before halftime.
As the ground game got warmed up after halftime, Wilson simply handed off the ball. After going 10-of-12 for 124 yards and three passing touchdowns in the first thirty minutes, he would attempt just seven more passes in the second half — completing five for 65 yards and two first-down pickups. Redshirt freshman Joe Brennan would relieve him in the final series, attempting just one pass as the offense ran out the clock.
The most impressive performances of the day offensively came from the Wilson/Pedersen connection — the quarterback connected with his tight end six times for 80 yards and two scores — as well as from Montee Ball. The 5’11″, 210-pound junior exited the locker room at halftime having carried eight times for 43 yards (with 34 of those yards on his last two runs of the half, bursts of 21 and 13 yards to set up Wisconsin’s third scoring drive). After the half he remained hot, busting off a 19-yard touchdown run on the opening drive of the third quarter to put the Badgers up 28-0. He would get four rushes on the drive, gaining 38 of the 80 yards covered.
In the end Wisconsin would fall just short of the 400-yard mark for total yardage, exhibiting great balance between the run and the pass. They would come away looking as dominant as they had in the Thursday-night home opener nine days prior.
The defense should have been susceptible to the pass from the Beavers, especially after senior cornerback Devin Smith was sidelined in the first quarter with a foot injury. Returning from the locker room on crutches and with his left foot immobilized, Smith will be lost to the defense for at least several weeks. But the unit survived just fine without the senior, as the Badgers allowed Oregon State inside their 40 just twice.
The first time, Sean Mannion was sacked by Mike Taylor and fumbled the ball on first and goal, as Oregon State strung together a fourth-quarter drive that looked like an awakening. Initially Grant Johnson recovered the ball, but it would squirt out of his hands and Jordan Kohout would pounce to kill the last best chance for the Beavers.
They would get inside Wisconsin’s twenty on their next drive… but just barely, as Mannion completed a pass for just two yards on 4th-and-8 from the Badger 21 to hand over the ball on downs. Mannion would finish the game with 244 passing yards, completing 25 of his 38 attempts, but when it counted most the Badgers tightened up and prevented a score all day long.
For Bret Bielema’s crew, it was another confidence builder ahead of their neutral-site game against Northern Illinois at Soldier Field and before the Big Ten season begins. They didn’t dazzle, but in this contest there was no need for dazzle. Showcasing the workmanlike characteristics that have always been a Badger trademark, Wisconsin chalked up another dominant yet understated win on a sunny Sunday in Madison.